Are you calling to ghosts?
That is how I felt the last several years during turkey season, and unless you have been living under a rock, we are well aware that turkey populations have been on the decline for several years. I live and hunt in Missouri and have felt the pain of the decline. The first week of the 2023 season has just concluded and anecdotally, I am seeing more birds on the farms I hunt. That in itself is room for optimism but to be successful and consistently punch tags, I believe hunters need to focus on two things: Location and Population
What about calling?
My friend and turkey-hunting legend Ray Eye will tell you that calling is everything and he is not wrong. The man has called and killed more turkeys than I could ever dream of. I could not hold a candle to the turkey sounds he can conjure but it matters very little how good you sound if there are no birds to react.
Location, Location, Location
As it is with real estate, location is critical for healthy turkey populations, and when I say location, I mean quality habitat. In the early to mid-2000’s, you could find turkeys in marginal habitat because there were so many of them. Urban sprawl and the loss of CRP have punched the wild turkey squarely in the beak, so what do you look for? I personally look for properties that have big timber, running water, and agriculture. If you are lucky enough to gain permission to hunt such a property, snatch it up; they are rare.
One property I hunt has developed a turkey cooperative with neighbors working to develop habitat for roosting, nesting, and brood rearing. We hear of deer cooperatives all of the time but the same principles work for turkeys.
It sounds simple, but with location (quality habitat) you should see a greater number of turkeys when afield or on your trail cams. My dad’s farm in Southeast Missouri used to be crawling with birds and then, property to the south that was primarily nesting was sold and developed. A property to the north succumbed to the same fate. In the name of progress, the turkeys had nowhere to nest making them easy targets for raccoons and other nest predators. We are only one week into the 2023 season, but I am observing more turkeys in the field. In places with excellent habitat, I am seeing large numbers of gobblers, and I was tickled pink to capture a trail cam image of 6 jakes at my dad’s place. Organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation and Turkeys for Tomorrow are doing studies on things like poult survival which is critical to helping populations rebound.
Build it, and they will come, but taking the extra effort to remove nest predators is in my opinion, the missing piece. The same properties that have developed a turkey cooperative of sorts also get after the raccoons, coyotes, and other critters that make both eggs and poults a meal. All critters have to eat, but I believe populations are out of control. A recent trail cam picture on one of my properties captured 6 raccoons in one frame. You will never eradicate nest predators but in areas with good to excellent habitat, you give the hens a fighting chance at raising a clutch and increasing survival rates for poults.
How is your turkey season going? Are you seeing more or fewer turkeys this spring?